Dr Rebecca Godfrey on how to allow leaders to make mistakes and protect their confidence.
Reading time: 5 minutes
Developing our leaders is essential in business, not only for the benefit of the teams they lead and the businesses to whom their talent is invaluable, but also for the leaders themselves.
Often, many of the qualities for which we were hired in the early stages of our career (detailed-oriented, focused, precise) are somewhat contrary to those we need in leadership: visionary, flexible, adaptable.
Consequently, leadership development is vital and an area that requires specific investment not only financially but also in time – time to learn and time to develop key skills and behaviours in order to lead, build, develop and inspire teams.
Sadly, however, we still often look at leadership development as a course, workshop or classroom-based activity where we learn principles, receive advice and the latest in leadership theory over one, two or five days and then head back to work to get on with our role.
But when did we ever learn effectively this way? Surely, we learn not by simply just being told but by trying and failing, by stumbling and overcoming.
Often in business, we want to protect our people against failure, but this is in fact counterproductive in leadership development.
We need to allow our leaders space to fail, to make mistakes, all the time providing the structure and support so that this failure isn’t fatal to their confidence or results in lasting damage to business.
So what can we do? How do we build resilience in our leadership without jeopardising the business? First, we need to get better at educating our leaders – not just training them.
By this I mean that we need to share principles, insights and tools and then encourage further development through time spent away from the classroom to work through on-the-job activities to try, fail and ultimately succeed.
That way, we allow individuals the chance to develop their own leadership style and, importantly, their confidence.
We need to allow our leaders space to make mistakes, and provide support so this failure isn’t fatal to their confidence
We also need to stop considering that leaders are born not made. It is my view that if someone has the passion to be a leader, they have the ability.
When we hear of ‘born leaders’ often you will find that they are particularly strong at garnering excitement, building the team culture and providing fantastic staff development opportunities.
However, if you scratch beneath the surface you may find that the team are indeed excited and passionate about what they do but are they really clear on the boundaries of their responsibilities? Are they owning their processes? And is the team resilient if that strong leader is not available?
From the review and analysis of leadership successes, and indeed failures, I have seen that there are five distinct pillars which, when implemented together, build highly successful, engaged and robust teams.
However, when even just one pillar is missing, we see disengagement, inefficiency and lack of resilience in our teams.
The five pillars of team excellence are:
1. Culture – building the right culture within the team that’s aligned to that of the organisation. Setting direction and fostering trust through the development of a team purpose, vision for the future and shared team values. Allowing the team to know what they stand for and where they are going.
2. Scope – developing and maintaining a clear view on the scope and boundaries of their team’s responsibilities and activities. Ensuring seamless links with interfacing organisations and teams, thereby removing gaps and/or duplication in cross functional projects and processes. Allowing the team to know clearly what they do and where their responsibilities start and stop.
3. Structure – creating the right organisational structure. Not only in terms of the organisation chart itself but in mindset – removing hierarchical constraints and ensuring empowerment of all team members. Establishing subject matter expertise and accountability at all levels within the team. Allowing for distributed control in an environment where each party knows their role within the team.
4. Staff development – implementing appropriate staff development methodologies which not only supports the development of individuals’ skills and knowledge, but also their confidence. Allowing members of the team to continuously improve themselves, their processes and their outputs.
5. Processes – supporting and enabling the team to develop robust, efficient and future proofed end-to-end processes with enhanced oversight where issues and risks are identified early, mitigated proactively and lead to robust improvements. Allowing team members to have ownership of their own processes and as a result allowing the leader to have better oversight.
When we look across these pillars and consider our own leadership style and interest, we may find that we are most interested in looking at culture and staff development, or we are great with scope and structure.
Much of this will depend on our preferences and our own personality. It is rare that a leader is a ‘natural’ across all five of these, quite different, pillars.
However, in order to lead a truly resilient, high-performing team, we need time and space to develop across all five pillars in order to become a holistic and resilient leader.
We must remember that we cannot vaccinate ourselves against everything through a jab alone; our environment also grants us immunity through picking up bugs along the way.
Similarly, courses, training manuals and books cannot teach us everything we need to become a great leader.
We must look at leadership development as a programme, a journey, a process and remember that there is no single definitive leadership profile. Leadership potential comes in the form of many different guises.
About the author
Dr Rebecca Godfrey is a leadership strategist and founder of Etheo